Startup Curae Pharma360 partners with Direct Relief to distribute free contraceptives to safety-net clinics

Curae Pharma360, a pharma startup focused on women’s health, has teamed up with Direct Relief to distribute emergency contraception to safety-net clinics.

Curae Pharma360 was founded a year ago as a for-profit subsidiary of Medicines360, a nonprofit pharma company focused on R&D, to commercialize its products. Now, its first product—OTC emergency contraceptive levonorgestrel—is being distributed in partnership with Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization. The partnership began at the start of the year, and the product is free to the safety-net clinics.

To date, the partners have distributed more than 28,000 units of the generic drug to 109 clinics in nearly every state, executives said. In total, they can distribute up to 120,000 contraceptives. 

“We are really here to identify gaps and then address them,” Andrea Olariu, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Curae Pharma360, told Fierce Healthcare, “and then make products available for as many women as possible wherever they are.” The retail price of levonorgestrel, the generic form of Plan B, can add up, and safety-net clinics usually operate on very low budgets, Olariu said. 

Andrea Olariu, M.D., PhD, CEO of Curae Pharma360
Andrea Olariu, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Curae Pharma360 (Andrea Olariu)

Curae Pharma360’s mission is to ensure products end up where they are actually needed most: “A lot of the time, the emphasis is where there is more money.” To that end, Direct Relief has a way of qualifying clinics that serve women in need, Olariu said. 

With a mission to be a different kind of pharmaceutical company, committed to expanding access to affordable drugs, Curae Pharma360 strives to minimize profits, Olariu said. With one shareholder—its nonprofit parent, Medicines360, of which Olariu is chief operating officer—it will reinvest proceeds back into increasing supply. 

More than 19 million women live in contraception deserts in the U.S., limiting their access to sexual and reproductive health care. The reversal of Roe v. Wade and actions by GOP-led states to limit access to contraception further implicates family planning. Those most likely to face harm as a result are marginalized communities struggling with other barriers to healthcare access, including people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, people with low incomes and those living in rural areas. 

Despite restrictions on abortion and contraceptives, Curae Pharma360 expects to be working with clinics around the country in all 50 states, Olariu said.

“Our products, emergency contraceptives, are not abortion products. They do not affect an existing pregnancy. They prevent pregnancy," she said.

A helpful step toward making this distinction, Olariu added, was when the Food and Drug Administration updated information included on the leaflet with Plan B last December, clarifying the mechanism of the contraceptive is not related to abortion.

Curea Pharma360 is eyeing injectable oncology drugs next, Olariu said, which have been in short supply.